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The German Client by Bruno Morchio

January 16, 2022

While anxiously waiting in a hospital corridor to learn whether the woman he loves will live or die, Private investigator Bacci Pagano is approach by Kurt Hessen, an elderly German. Hessen is searching for his Italian half-brother and is prepared to pay handsomely for Pagano to find him. Pagano reluctantly accepts the job. It is a task that will tax Pagano’s detective skills to the limit, because the answer lies in the events of the Second World War, during the Nazi occupation of Genoa in 1944.

This novel is primarily a detective novel in which an old mystery must be solved to bring closure to the client. But there is a great deal more to it than that. By agreeing to take on his German client’s case, Pagano will become embroiled in a cat’s cradle of partisans whose desires, ambitions, and righteous justifications led to the type of activities that in time of war challenged the understandings of right and wrong. The last thing these now elderly people want is painful old memories brought into the light. For this reason, “The German Client” becomes almost an anthropological study of people’s personal responses to living in and defying a ruthless and evil regime.

There are some interesting narrative devices in the book. Set both in the past and the present, the past is written in the third person, the present in the first. Each era cannily echo’s the other, so that Pagano’s love interest, a woman forced into a life of prostitution by a ruthless gang, might seem little more than a side story, but in fact holds a mirror to the past.

Moving from one chapter to another is a shift in time. The ripples of events initiated in the war reach into the present, causing enormous and intriguing problems for Pagano’s investigation. With the past weighing heavy with the resistance members who have locked away their secrets for years, they are not in a hurry to release them. In part this is due to emotional trauma, but also because  they know that the young, would judge their actions by the standards of those who can never hope to understand what it is to live in constant oppression and the danger its opposition brings.

Throughout the novel Bruno Morchio maintains a tense atmosphere of people forced to make life changing decisions in the turmoil of war, while moving along the fascinating investigation of Pagano unpicking the past to get at the truth. The 1944 sections of the book are a very immersive experience and page turning with the anxiety of wondering what will happen to the characters next. Although a short novel, at a little over 200 pages, Morchio packs a great deal into the book.

The German Client was courtesy of Kazabo Publishing.

From → Crime/Mystery

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